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A debut novel recounting a young man’s sudden initiation into the real world—via the oil fields of central Texas. Erwin Vanderveer, like many northeasterners, believes that America is made up of two coasts with nothing terribly interesting in between. A recent Harvard grad who wants to be an actor, Erwin has just spent a profitless year in Hollywood trying to break into the movies. Now he’s given up and decided to return home to Boston. Lacking the cash for a plane ticket, he decides to cross the country by bus—which is how he discovers Texas. Unfortunately for Erwin, however, one of his fellow passengers is a card shark who quickly fleeces him of his last dime, stranding him in a rest stop in Abilene. There, he meets Merle Lusky, an oil man who happens to need an extra hand to roughneck on one of his rigs. Merle is like no one Erwin has ever met: Profane and sentimental by turns, he swills whiskey for breakfast and thinks nothing of driving a hundred miles an hour in broad daylight merely to elude the cops. Now, though, the drop in oil prices have hit Merle pretty hard, and the banks are calling in his loans. He stands to lose all six of his rigs unless he can conjure up payback money fast. Merle concocts a scheme to save his skin, but it requires a low profile that’s hard to maintain in Abilene’s tight-knit oil community. That’s where Erwin comes in. As an outsider, he manages to steal confidential information about oil deposits, and soon Merle has staked a claim to a new field that gushes just in time to satisfy the bank. Erwin heads home as planned but not—as he had feared—as a loser. Affable and fun: Thompson’s portrayal of an innocent gone (very) far abroad proves irresistibly readable.

Pub Date: April 8th, 1999
ISBN: 0-312-20052-8
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1999